Medtronic is just one example. For years, the company built Palm and Windows Mobile apps entirely in house.
“Apps at the time were easier and a little more streamlined because there was only one dominant platform: first Palm and then Windows Mobile,” says Jim Freeland, enterprise mobility IT. “So the whole equation of ‘insource or outsource?’ really didn’t start until iPhone and Android came out.”
Today, Medtronic has more than 150 apps for internal and external use. All but about 10 were developed by outside contractors. In May 2012, Medtronic created a certified mobile vendor program to provide consistency in the way that it works with developers.
“That allows them to work across our company with any of our business units because they understand our guidelines, policies and requirements,” Freeland says. “We’ve got consistent pricing in place for all of our businesses internally. They understand who to talk to when there are questions or issues. In the end, my team is trying to help them succeed with our mutual customer: the business internally.”
Many enterprises — large and small — don’t have that kind of framework. So one way that developers can maintain a good relationship with their clients is by helping them create a sustainable process.
“Big companies are at a loss for how to handle this,” Freeland says. “They don’t know how to handle the proliferation of their consumers: the businesses internally demanding these mobile apps get built. Vendors can help themselves by coaching corporate IT or marketing on how to work with them to have a more effective relationship.”
App Developers: Partner Up
Like any other type of B2B service, there are multiple options for getting in front of potential customers, including networking and responding to inquiries on sites such as LinkedIn’s iPhone, Android, iPad, Tablet & Mobile Application Development group, as well as traditional RFIs/RFPs.
“They need to know how to balance value with price and represent how they would partner with the prospect/customer such that the enterprise sees them as an extension of their own,” says Tony McGinty, Genesys Telecommunications Laboratories’ senior manager for North America. “RFPs tend to be more solution-oriented, with much more at stake than an application development by itself; although if the application is complex, an enterprise may choose to take that route.”
Some enterprises turn to their mobile operator when they’re looking for developer references. Hence AT&T’s Foundry program, which fields app-development requests from enterprise customers and the operator’s own business units, then looks for developers with the skills to deliver those products. For each project request, AT&T picks several developers, which then go through a fast pitch process to determine which one gets the gig.
“We look for those two guys in a garage, as well as the larger shops,” says Mike Berry, director of operations for Foundry’s Plano, Texas, facility.
Developers can throw their hats in the ring at http://developer.att.com. “If and when we have a [project request] that meets their general description, one of our scouting teams will contact them,” Berry says. “It’s not a guarantee that you’re going to get your foot in the door, but at least it is a door.”
One Foundry participant is OpenPeak, which provides the Toggle platform that AT&T offers to enterprise customers. “The Foundry process has been a huge success story for us,” says David Barclay, vice president of business development.
Developers can also get their foot in the door via systems integrators — and not just large ones such as Accenture. Some enterprises say they prefer smaller, boutique integrators. “We’re trending toward those kinds of shops,” says Medtronic’s Freeland. “We feel like they can help us stay up with the current mobile standards faster than some of the larger shops.”
How to Stay in the Room
Enterprises farm out app development for a variety of reasons, but if there’s a common denominator, it’s a desire to avoid the cost, risk and hassle of doing that work internally. That’s worth remembering if you want to stay in the room after landing what could be a one-off project. Some tips:
- Don’t be shy about showcasing what you can do. Don’t assume that your client believes you can do more than just what you’re currently providing. “Don’t rest on what you’ve delivered for them,” Freeland says. “Develop a video highlight reel of the types of apps you can build. Offer to come in and do a showcase where you demonstrate capabilities. Customers these days, when they’re looking for a mobile vendor to work with, it’s a very visual game.”
- Show how you can protect clients from the uncertainty that comes with a rapidly evolving mobile world. For example, enterprises don’t want to add staff with Microsoft Surface skills until they’re convinced that the platform has legs. “If I’m a vendor, that’s how I’m selling my services: ‘Let my company insulate you from changes in the mobile world,’” Freeland says.
- Be straight about who owns what. “Vendors need to understand the consequences of not providing source code or the entire project source code,” Freeland says. “If a vendor has developed some proprietary code, and that’s kind of their secret sauce that they want to leverage across multiple customers, make sure they’re very clear about what they plan to keep and what they plan to turn over. That’s huge right now — huge.”